Back in March 2011, we reviewed the old Kindle WiFi, and gave it a big thumbs up. Back at the end of 2011, Amazon launched a new version of the Kindle WiFi, and I bought one. Consequently, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill press review – I’ve been using the “Kindle WiFi, 6″ E Ink Display” heavily for a couple of months now and am going to give you my impressions as a user. Amazon aren’t giving their various Kindle generations catchy titles, so to be clear, I’m talking about the WiFi-only version without a physical keyboard, launched in late 2011. Concurrently with this one, Amazon also have the Kindle Keyboard 3G, which I’m not reviewing here, although I will be making some comparisons of the pros and cons of having 3G or not, and having a keyboard or not.
I’ve always been a sporadic reader. When I start reading a book, I usually read it very quickly, reading for hours at a time, but then it’s usually several months before I pick up another. I do think that’s been largely because I rarely make time to go to bookshops to browse, and so would only read books I specifically sought out. My Kindle has changed that completely. I’m now a complete bookworm (or should that be kindleworm?). There’s something about it that has reawakened the thrill I remember having as a young teenager when I first started to read novels. I remember sitting in my English classroom after school reading Carrie’s War and Tales of Earthsea until I was turfed out by the caretaker. With my new Kindle in my hands, I experienced the same thrill again. Millions of books to choose from, right there waiting, and a vast number completely free.
There are so many free books because of the way copyright works. Copyright on a work lasts until a set number of years after the author’s death, after which time the content of the work is considered public knowledge; open-source, if you like. In the UK, publishers can charge for printing costs, cover designs and so on, but not for the content. This is why classics are so cheap in print now (in the UK at least), and free to download. You’ve never read Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice or a Tale of Two Cities? Now you can for free.
My Initial Experience
My Kindle arrived on a Friday, and I read all weekend, barely stopping to sleep. The box is slim enough to fit through a letterbox (mail slot), so there’s no need to be at home for your delivery. For the first couple of weeks, I flitted from book to book, having several on the go at once. I read A.A.Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Captain Cook’s journals, and Steven Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. I’ve since read Steve Jobs’ biography, and several books giving accounts of special forces operations, including the excellent SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper.
My main first thoughts about the Kindle were about the screen and the (lack of) weight. The “E Ink” display is, quite frankly, magical. It reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke’s statement that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Amazon have somehow made it look like a printed page of printer’s ink on paper has been trapped under the screen. It even has the texture of paper if you hold it at an angle to the light, and I swear they’ve made it so it looks like you can just see the text of the next page showing through slightly as with a real book. My octogenarian grandmother genuinely asked me how you get the paper into the Kindle. The advanced technology didn’t phase her though, as she successfully used it to read the Queen’s Christmas Address on Christmas Day. She doesn’t understand WiFi or the internet, but she could turn the pages and enjoy reading on it just the same. Accessibility is a big bonus with the Kindles as any book can be made into a large print edition just by changing the text size. It’s important to realise that the screens on Kindles aren’t backlit. Just like a book, you need a lamp, candle, torch-under-the-duvet, or daylight to read by. After using so many backlit devices like mobile phones and tablets, it takes a little while to get used to the sensation of looking at an unlit screen. Get used to that feeling though, and you realise that it’s so much more comfortable that way – again, just like a book.
As I said, my other thought was around the weight. The Kindle weighs about the same as a medium-weight paperback, and certainly a lot less than books like The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which are pretty darned heavy to hold for hours on end. Of course, the biggest factor to do with the Kindle’s lack of heft, is the fact that it weighs a mere fraction of the small library of books and magazines you can carry around in it. Were they all available in Kindle format (which the majority probably are), I don’t doubt you could fit most, if not all, the books I’ve ever read on one Kindle at once. Not surprising in the Information Age, but still amazing to be able to carry around all your books with you if you want to.